Federal Information Preservation Network (FIPNet) – Answering your Questions

This summer the Government Documents Round Table’s (GODORT) Rare and Endangered Government Publications Committee hosted a session, “Preserving Federal Government Information Panel Discussion,” during the annual meeting of the American Library Association (ALA). Robbie Sittel, Government Information Librarian, University of North Texas (UNT), discussed partnerships between UNT Libraries and the U.S. Government Publishing Office (GPO); and GPO’s Cindy Etkin provided an overview of FIPNet. There was plenty of time for questions. Below are highlights from Etkin’s presentation, including a few of the questions that were posed and the answers that were provided.

GPO’s FIPNet is a strategic initiative to expand Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) collections and Cataloging & Indexing (C&I) content for the National Bibliographic Records Inventory. It also guarantees the public long-term access to the Government’s publications and information from libraries, Government entities, coalitions, and organizations working to ensure free access for future generations. This collaborative network will help preserve both the tangible and digital content of the National Collection of U.S. Government Information through the following activities:

  • Cataloging and metadata creation
  • Digitization and content conversion
  • Harvesting Web content
  • Hosting digital content
  • Storing physical copies
  • Condition assessment
  • Conservation
  • Other innovative activities that support preservation

The National Collection of U.S. Government Information is defined as a geographically dispersed collection of the corpus of Federal Government information dissemination products paid for with Federal funds, regardless of format or medium. Declassified materials and materials whose privacy considerations have expired are included within scope of the National Collection. This includes all the materials that are within the scope of C&I, which differs from the scope of content distributed to Federal depository libraries.

A Federal depository library collection is defined as published Federal information products, regardless of format or medium, which are of public interest or educational value and produced using
Federal funds that were distributed by GPO through the FDLP. Exceptions are those publications that:

  • Are “official use only” and are not of public interest nor having educational value
  • Are classified for national security
  • Have privacy considerations
  • Are “cooperative publications”

Over time, what has been in scope to distribute to Federal depository libraries has changed. For example (and there are other examples not included here), executive department publications were included for depository distribution beginning in 1895, the FDLP scope was broadened in 1938 to include Congressional committee publications and again in 1941 to include Congressional hearings. All the while, these publications were within the scope of C&I. This has resulted in depository collections containing only a portion of the National Collection, as shown in the image seen here. But we also know that libraries may have added Federal documents to their collections that they did not receive through the FDLP. Depository libraries “collect and select” to add holdings to their collections. They select what they can from the FDLP and collect Federal documents from other available sources to round out their collections. Libraries may be on publications mailing lists for agencies or they may have received donations from faculty or members of their community. This is particularly true of materials from regional offices of agencies or materials printed in the GPO regional plants, which weren’t within scope of the FDLP until 1962.

The goal of C&I is to create a comprehensive index of Federal Government information dissemination products. We need to identify all the fugitive documents so they can be brought under bibliographic control and the records accessible through the Catalog of U.S. Government Publications (CGP). We need to identify who has holdings for the body of Government information so we can ensure there is permanent public access to them. FIPNet activities will help GPO do this and ensure Government information is preserved for generations to come. You can become a FIPNet partner and help us too!

The growth of depository collections after FIPNet activities.

GPO believes that the Government has an obligation to preserve its information and to ensure the broadest possible access to it. Some of you may not know that GPO does not have a collection of what’s been cataloged or distributed through the FDLP. Depository libraries have collections. Also, GPO learned from the FDLP Forecast Study that 21% of library respondents are not in a position to take on leadership roles and another 7% indicated they couldn’t take on any additional responsibilities because of limited resources. On the other hand, many respondents conveyed their willingness to work in collaboration with other libraries on projects.

In developing FIPNet, GPO wanted a collaborative model that would not add additional responsibilities to depository libraries but, rather, would leverage activities libraries have already undertaken. Eligible partners go beyond the FDLP. There are many Federal agency and other libraries or organizations that are not depositories, and yet would be willing to participate in a network that ensures Government information will be freely accessible to future generations. This is an enormous endeavor that can only be successful through a network of stakeholders working collaboratively.

Questions & Answers

Question: I am not sure I understand the relationship between FIPNet and the FDLP. Is FIPNet “taking over” the FDLP?

Answer: No, FIPNet is not taking over the FDLP. Depository libraries will not have added responsibilities or requirements because of FIPNet. FIPNet is a collaborative network with a variety of stakeholders who will work to preserve and ensure no-fee permanent public access to the body of Government information, and among the stakeholders are depository libraries. They may choose to participate in FIPNet, but there is no requirement for them to do so. Federal depository libraries play a very important role in their communities by providing access to their depository collections and supporting services to their users. Depositories have built collections that are valuable in meeting local needs. Depositories will continue to serve as they do now; FIPNet takes nothing away from this value. Depository libraries will benefit from the work of FIPNet as the amount of accessible content will increase. We hope depository libraries will want to participate in FIPNet, but they do not have to.

Question: If a regional depository wants to become a FIPNet partner, will the partnership have to include their entire depository collection?

Answer: No; if a regional, or a selective for that matter, would like to be a FIPNet partner the agreement does not have to include their entire collection. Let me use the Centers of Excellence (COE) adopted by many Association of Southeastern Research Libraries (ASERL) depositories as an example. The library has identified a particular agency for which they want to serve as a COE. They are collecting retrospectively and comprehensively for that agency, and cataloging the materials. Some libraries are committed to digitizing the COE content, though they may not be digitizing their entire collection. The library may wish to participate in FIPNet with roles that relate to only that portion of their collection for which they are a COE.

Question: When you say that hosting digital content is a possible role for FIPNet partners, what does this mean? Will GPO be pushing digital files to partners to host?

Answer: GPO cannot push files to depository libraries at present. Some current content partners prefer to host their digital files on their own institution’s web site. The digital content to be hosted is either harvested or digitized by the FIPNet partner.

Question: Will the current GPO partnerships automatically become FIPNet partnerships?

Answer: No, they will not automatically become FIPNet partners. New agreements with different language will have to be signed. Most of our current partnerships map to FIPNet roles, so these partnerships are prime candidates to become FIPNet partners, but the process will not be automatic.

Question: FIPNet sounds as if only big libraries will be able to participate. Are there FIPNet roles for smaller depository libraries?

Answer: Most definitely there are roles for smaller libraries. By design, FIPNet leverages what libraries are already doing. Large libraries aren’t the only ones to have special collections of local interest. Smaller libraries may have content that is fugitive to the rest of the FDLP. Identifying this content and informing GPO about it can be the beginning of conversations of participating in FIPNet. Though not specifically listed above, promoting and spreading the word about FIPNet is an important activity that is not dependent on size or type of library. These are just a couple of examples.

Question: Who, or what groups, has GPO been talking with regarding FIPNet? 

Answer: GPO is in what we are calling a communication phase. We are reaching out to organizations and libraries to increase awareness of FIPNet and the possibilities for collaboration. We have discussed the FIPNet concept with the depository library community for about a year. Additionally GPO has had meetings with or given presentations to:

  • University of North Texas
  • Regional depository libraries
  • National libraries, Library of Congress (LC), National Archives (NARA)
  • Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS)
  • Federal Library & Information Network (FEDLINK) Advisory Board
  • 2015 Open Access Symposium (UNT Dallas College of Law)
  • Legal Information Preservation Alliance (LIPA)
  • Several groups here at the American Library Association (ALA) Annual Conference

Forthcoming are presentations: with representatives from TRAIL (Technical Report Archive & Image Library) (which took place July 16); at the American Association of Law Libraries Annual Meeting (which was held July 18-21); at the FEDLINK Fall 2015 Exposition; at a follow-up meeting with the national libraries, LC, and NARA; and during conference calls with Columbia and Stanford universities.

Question: Robbie Sittel was asked why the University of North Texas wanted to be a FIPNet partner.

Answer: The decision to become a FIPNet partner was an easy decision for Martin Halbert, Dean of Libraries. See her more complete response in the Partnership Showcase article, where we showcase UNT, the first FIPNet partner.

Contact GPO at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. if you have questions about FIPNet, are interested in finding out more about becoming a FIPNet partner, or want to brainstorm possibilities.

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Maggie Farrell served on the Depository Library Council 1994-1995 and 1998-2001, serving as Chair 2000-2001. Currently, Maggie is the Dean of Libraries at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and previously served as the Dean of Libraries at the University of Wyoming and Clemson University. Although her focus is on leadership and management, Maggie formed her understanding of information systems and library operations as a Government information librarian that guides her to this day in the values of open information and equitable access.

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